Cursing a Good Man

  • Am going to talk about something different today.  Right now I am taking an American Literature class (1985-present).  In this class we have begun by talking about authors like Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher-Stowe and how their books impacted our society.  I want to focus on the story Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Stowe, as it is one of my favorite books.


    I grew up hearing the words “Uncle Tom” and learned that it was the black man’s way of calling another black man a traitor to his own kind.  I never really understood the connotations even though I knew it was related to a book of the same name.  Then in 2001, while I was waiting to come to prison, I found a copy of the book read it, about three times.  And after reading the book, I was even more confused because my impression of Uncle Tom did not coincide with something bad.


    So I asked around.  I have actually found only two black people of my acquaintance that read the book.  One could not explain how the book dictated the term negatively.  But the other guy, Two-Face, a Muslim, enlightened me.  He told me that the reason that the name “Uncle Tom” was a derisive term was because in the story Uncle Tom was a house boy who had it good and because he bore his slavery without trying to fight using violence.  After hearing this, I read the story for a fourth time.  And still could not get this.


    You see the main part of the story was about a slave, Uncle Tom, who was part of a household.  He was married and had children.  He lived in the main house and was given much responsibility and trust by his white owners.  He did not abuse this trust nor try to subvert the authority of those put over him.  And while he did not like his captivity, he bore it well.  Then in a sudden turn, he was sold because of his master’s debts.  And even though, he hated to be parted from his wife and children, he did what was required of him with stark humbleness.  Throughout the story, we saw the tribulations that Uncle Tom bore.  He did this all with dignity and a positiveness that I can only liken to one other person that I have ever heard about.  Then in the end, when it came down to it, Uncle Tom sacrificed himself for two others even though he knew it meant his death by torture.


    There is only one other person that we honor for bearing up under the yoke of oppression.  We call this person a king, our hero, our savior.  We name him Jesus.  Jesus, who bore all the tribulations that the Jews and Romans could heap on him.  Jesus, who was tortured for our iniquities.  Jesus, who died for us.


    Because Uncle Tom did not rail against his condition like a frenzied animal, we vilify him?  A man acts with dignity and honor, but because he did not use violence, we use his name as a curse?  I do not understand this.


    This is part of the incongruity of our natures where we can turn the name of a good man into a curse.  My life was made up of so many negatives before I came to prison.  Prison, one of the most negative places.  I have enjoyed taking this negativity and finding something good within it.  I challenge you to read the story Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher-Stowe.  It will give you a different take on “Uncle Tom.”  I guarantee it!!